Although many people understand the dangers of smoking cigarettes and joints, the recent popularity of e-cigarettes – also called e-cigs and vape pens – has made smoking popular again. These battery-powered products use oils containing nicotine, marijuana, or flavoring agents to create a steam that can then be inhaled.  

E-cigarettes without nicotine have been marketed as tools to help smokers quit tobacco, but this controversial marketing ploy has been found to be unsubstantiated; e-cigs generally just encourage users to smoke differently.  

By 2014, nearly 13 percent of adults ages 18 and older in the US have smoked an e-cigarette at some point in their lives. More men than women use vape pens, at about 14.2 percent compared to 11.2 percent. Most of these individuals are young adults, with 21.6 percent of people ages 18-24 abusing these new forms of nicotine or marijuana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

E-Cigarettes Still Cause Physical Harm

Most vape pens sold legally to adults ages 18 and older contain nicotine, and they are used the same way that cigarettes are used. Marijuana or hashish oil can be purchased separately – legally in states with recreational marijuana laws or online. Marijuana is as dangerous and addictive as nicotine, and more likely to cause long-term damage to the brain, including harming memory, cognition, and mood.

Smoking cigarettes has been widely publicized as dangerous because it increases the risk of lung damage and cancer. Cigarette smoking harms unborn babies when they are used by pregnant women, and secondhand smoke can harm others people who do not smoke regularly. Although vape pens were advertised as safer than cigarettes for a few years, medical studies have shown that this is not true.

Some brands of oil, whether they contain nicotine or not, contain formaldehyde and an ingredient used in antifreeze. These chemicals are dangerous and increase the risk of cancer. Some of the flavoring agents used in non-nicotine oils are also dangerous to lung health. While e-cigs do not involve burning substances, which creates specific carcinogens, there are other chemicals in oils that come with risks that are not well understood when consumed in this manner.

Other physical side effects associated with e-cigarettes include:

  • Changes to blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Damage to the reproductive system, including harm to unborn babies
  • Irritated eyes
  • Damage to throat and lungs
  • Insulin resistance in those with type 2 diabetes
  • Appetite changes
  • One unique risk associated with vape pens is posed by the lithium-ion battery. Although these rechargeable batteries are generally safe, a low-quality or malfunctioning battery may explode or melt the device. This can damage the person’s eyes, skin, fingers, and other areas.
  • Some medical researchers believe that vape pens are marginally safer than cigarettes, but true long-term effects are not known, and they are still not safe. Smoking nicotine or marijuana products (without medical necessity) constitutes substance abuse, and doing so regularly can lead to addiction.

Ending Addiction to Nicotine

A study found that both daily cigarette smokers and nondaily smokers were most likely to abuse e-cigarettes at 30.3 percent and 34.1 percent respectively, compared to those who never smoked, at 1.4 percent, and those who successfully quit smoking, at 5.4 percent. People who quit abusing nicotine lead healthier lives, struggle less with mood disorders, and can avoid long-term harm like cancer.